by ALI OLOMI for ISLAMiCommentary on MARCH 30, 2016:
In March 2016 Payam Feili, a young Iranian poet, took refuge in Israel because he faced persecution in his home country for being openly gay. Feili’s situation is not unique for many LGBTQ individuals in the Middle East. Homosexuality is a crime in nearly two dozen Muslim countries carrying severe punishments in ten of those counties.
While it is tempting to ascribe this to Islam, the historical context is more nuanced and complex.
The status of LGBTQ rights in the Muslim world today is perplexing given that Islamic history is characterized by its relative tolerance of sexual diversity and same-sex desire.
Though homosexuality as an identity and category is a predominantly modern construction, gay, lesbian, transgender, and intersex individuals have always been present in history.
From the time of Prophet Muhammad on, intersex individuals known as mukhannathum lived in Islamic society and occupied publicly visible, though sometimes marginalized spaces. Many of these individuals, like Gharid and Al Dalal, were openly gay and had lovers. They enjoyed positions as musicians and intermediaries between men and women in the role of matchmakers. In both Umayyad and Abbasid history, gay individuals were not only present, but quite public. The first time they faced state violence was at the hands of Caliph Sulayman ibn Abd-al Malik. The 10th century historian, Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani writes in his Kitab al-Aghani that Sulayman had all the mukhannathum castrated, not because of their sexual desires, but because their music had distracted one of his lovers while she was attending him. Continue reading